California Must Transform its Youth Justice System

California Must Transform its Youth Justice System
June 25, 2020 Delia Reid

The murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others to state violence has sparked a global uprising against racism in all its forms. It also has given new momentum to the ongoing fight for justice for Black communities and communities of color across California and amongst our community partners, with a call to reshape and redefine public safety and transform our criminal and youth justice systems.

We, the California Funders for Boys & Men of Color (CFBMoC), are guided by the life course framework, which means we seek to improve the health, educational and economic opportunities for boys and men of color over the course of their lives. Launched in 2014, the CFBMoC brings together CEOs from the state’s leading philanthropic institutions to shape a better future for boys and men of color—and for California. Since our inception, CFBMoC has engaged in collaborative efforts to remove systemic barriers and create pathways that enable our boys and men of color to achieve their greatest hopes and dreams — continuing a decades-long commitment by many of our member foundations.

One of those barriers is our justice system. There is no doubt that our justice system is failing youth, and particularly Black youth. Right now in California, we have a critical window to ensure fair and equal opportunity for our young people – and we must seize this moment to make real change. In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for an end to California’s youth prison system. This was the right decision. After nearly two decades of work by advocates and organizers, the governor is delivering on his promise to “end the juvenile justice system as we know it.”

If we want to achieve real progress in addressing the racial injustice of the youth justice system and support all of California’s young people to succeed, we must think and act differently. That is what’s happening in Los Angeles County, which has closed nine youth jails since 2017 and redirected more than $60 million in funds to community-based programs that have succeeded in reducing youth arrests by 30 percent and youth incarceration by 50 percent. The county also overhauled its juvenile justice coordinating council to add young community members who have lived experience with the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

Any realignment of the Division of Juvenile Justice to the counties would benefit from some of the best practices gleaned from Los Angeles County’s approach: Specifically, listen to advocates, organizers, and young people about what they need; move dollars away from costly punishment and law enforcement and into cost-effective prevention and community care; and bring all sectors together to build a youth development system that prioritizes education, health, housing, trauma-informed care and more.

California must lead the way on this issue by engaging with community partners to ensure that any reimagining of California’s youth justice system prioritizes youth development and well-being. This includes:
  • Develop a planning process that centers on continued stakeholder and expert engagement, one that would resolve the specific processes for realignment and also clarify the funding formula (e.g. How will savings from DJJ’s closure be reinvested? How will community-based alternatives be part of this new county infrastructure?).
  • Invest in data and strong State oversight, preferably by an agency that considers the health and necessary developmental outcomes of young people engaged in these systems.
  • Prevent transfer provisions to the Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation and create a new disposition with enhanced programming for young people convicted of serious or violent charges.

Shuttering the Department of Juvenile Justice, while necessary, requires careful consideration of a range of policies and practices. This is not a time to pour more money into an outdated criminal justice system that drains resources and has failed black and brown youth. Rather, California must take the time to develop a plan that truly serves the complex needs of young people. The lives of California’s young people are too precious to put at risk by doing business as usual.

Lateefah Simon
Akonadi Foundation

Antonia Hernández
President and CEO
California Community Foundation

Judy Belk
President and CEO
The California Wellness Foundation

James W. Head
President & CEO
East Bay Community Foundation

Deanna Gomby
President and CEO
Heising-Simons Foundation

Shane Murphy Goldsmith
President and CEO
Liberty Hill Foundation

Arnold Sowell Jr.
Executive Director
NextGen Policy, California

Tim Silard
Rosenberg Foundation

Linda Beech Cutler
Sacramento Region Community Foundation

Fred Blackwell
San Francisco Foundation

Chet P. Hewitt
President and CEO
Sierra Health Foundation and The Center

Sophie Fanelli
Stuart Foundation

Fred Ali
President and CEO
Weingart Foundation

Allison Magee
Executive Director
Zellerbach Family Foundation